The Oil Lamp

Happy first day of Advent! With the end of Thanksgiving comes the descending of the Christmas season in my family. The house is already completely decorated, and wrapped presents are beginning to appear under the tree. Soon, we’ll start our extensive holiday baking, feasting on many fat things over the next few weeks. But my favorite Christmas tradition comes in the form of a magnetic board glued to a frame made up of twenty-five different boxes. Beginning on the first of December, we’ll open a box a day and place the piece inside on the board, painted to depict a simple stable under a starry sky. This is our Advent calendar, counting down the days until the celebration of Jesus’ birth one nativity character at a time.

In the days leading up to Christmas, many churches will celebrate Advent in their services. Most won’t use a calendar; the common method of the countdown to Christmas is the advent wreath. This wreath traditionally holds five candles, each representing a specific value: hope, faith, joy, peace, and purity. This year, I’ve decided to do a series of stories based on the Advent candles. These short stories will go out once a week, all leading up to the celebration of Christmas. I hope you enjoy them! Merry Christmas!

***

A soft sob echoed into his ears. At first, the boy ignored it. It was likely nothing more than his own dreams. They were too often filled with weeping these days. He turned onto his other side, exhaling slowly as he began to drift back to sleep.

Another sob came, this one a little louder. The boy opened his eyes and cautiously sat up. The thin light of the moon seeped in through the shutters, illuminating a tiny patch of the floor. In its scant brightness, the boy scanned the room. His two brothers were silent on their mats. His older sister was also asleep, curled up under her cloak. His younger sister lay beside her, equally still. On either end of the line of bedrolls, the places reserved for his parents were empty.

The boy stared at the place where his father had slept. It had been vacant for less a month; so had his mother’s place. Their line of mats had shrunk so much recently. At one time, there had been nine of them sleeping side by side. Now there were only five. The plague that was still sweeping through their town had had no mercy for their family.

His younger sister shifted, drawing her hand across her face. The boy watched her for a moment, then carefully stood up. He moved soundlessly past the heads of his still-sleeping brothers, stopping beside his little sister. He knelt beside her and touched her shoulder. She stirred and raised herself onto her arm, looking up at him. The pale moonlight sparkled in her wet eyes.

“Bad dreams?” the boy asked, and his sister nodded. He offered a sad smile before wrapping his arms around her and holding her close. She clung to him, fresh tears falling silently onto his shoulder. 

The boy stroked her hair, staring at the emptiness of the room. They had sold everything after their parents died, and even now, they still had many debts to repay. Their situation looked more and more desperate with each passing day.

“It’s so dark in here,” his sister whimpered, pulling in a shuddering breath. “Can we please have a little light?”

The boy started to point out the moonlight to her. Then he hesitated. The moon was cold, pale, almost more frightening than the darkness of the room. Such a light would not help his sister. “Just a moment,” he said as he stood. 

He hurried across the room to their single oil lamp and struck two pieces of flint together above it. The wick flickered instantly into flame, creating a circle of light around the lamp. The boy carefully picked it up and carried it to his sister, setting it close to her head. “There,” he whispered. “You can rest now.”

The little girl’s eyes began to flutter shut. “Thank you,” she murmured before drifting back to sleep.

The boy sat beside her bed, watching the light dance in the tiny breath of wind drifting through the house. A passage he had heard at the synagogue came to his mind. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” the rabbi had read; “those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” The rabbi had said this passage concerned the coming Messiah. With his appearance would come the end of darkness.

The boy shivered a little as he watched the light. The darkness pulsated around the lamp, but the solitary flame stood strong against it. No matter how great the darkness, one tiny bit of light would destroy its victory. A small smile crossed the boy’s face as he stood and returned to his bed. 

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